Journaling is one of the best things I’ve done in life. And in this article, I share my best tips.
Since I started journaling, I’ve improved my self-knowledge, happiness, and achieved more career success. I highly recommend it to everyone who’s serious about personal growth.
But in my experience, journaling only works if you do it consistently. Otherwise, it’s not a good use of your time.
The tips you’ll find in this article are for you if you’re stuck with journaling, or are a beginner and want to get started. But first, let’s talk about the benefits of journaling. This can help with sticking to it.
What’s journaling good for?
For years, people have been using journaling as a way to relieve stress. An in-depth study by Joshua Smyth, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, has shown that written emotional expression can significantly improve a healthy person’s physical health, psychological well-being, physiological functioning, and general functioning.1Source: Written emotional expression: Effect sizes, outcome types, and moderating variables.
Journaling doesn’t only improve overall happiness, it also has a positive impact on career-related skills like decision-making and critical-thinking.2 See more about this in this paper called, “Journal Writing as a Teaching Technique to Promote Reflection”.
When I started, I wasn’t aware of all these benefits. But as I kept journaling, I could see my life improving. Looking back, the research really makes sense. Being aware of this definitely has helped me to keep going.
A collection of the 29 best journaling tips
I’ve published another article about journaling in the past. In that article, I share how I use journaling as a self-improvement tool. If you want to learn more about why I journal, check that out.
But many readers have asked about how to get started. That’s why I’ve compiled the 29 best journaling tips that I’ve learned from studying famous “journalers” like Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Helen Keller, Anne Frank, and many more.
I apply every one of these tips. I hope you find them useful!
1. Have a clear goal
Some journal for fun, some analyze their decisions. I journal for self-improvement. It’s a tool to know myself better, get in touch with my thoughts, and manage my habits. In my experience, you can only turn journaling into a habit if you have a clear goal. What do you want to journal for? Answer that, and you’re more likely to keep at it.
2. There’s no ONE way to do it
Just because you see all those fancy-looking, well-kept journals on Pinterest or Instagram doesn’t mean you have to do it that way too. It doesn’t matter if your entries are a bunch of short stories, activity logs, decision plans, scrapbook artwork, etc. The important thing is that you record your thoughts, ideas, and feelings regularly. How? Any way you like.
3. Keep it honest
You’re not trying to impress anyone with your journal. There’s no need to “curate” the stuff you put in there. This is the place where you can be true and honest to yourself, without weighing other peoples’ opinions.
4. Start small and simple
Most journaling tips I’ve read on the internet only make the practice complicated. Journaling is a habit; so start small. If you tell yourself to write 500 words a day, you just put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Just tell yourself, “write.” Write for two minutes or ten minutes, about anything that comes to mind, and keep going if the momentum continues.
5. Entries can also be long
Once you’ve started journaling, it’s totally fine to write longer entries. In fact, some of the longer entries I write are very therapeutic. The point is that you can do whatever you find useful. Want to write a few sentences? Do that. Feel like writing more? Go for it.
6. Keep it accessible
Ideas and “inspiration” sometimes visit us in unusual times and places; While waiting in line at the grocer’s, at a bus station, in the middle of the night, etc. Journaling becomes easier when your journal is at an arm’s reach. You don’t want to miss a good idea when it comes. That’s why I like using Day One, a dedicated journaling app.
7. Keep it free-form
Your journal doesn’t have to be just words. Feel free to keep it free-form. Feel like doodling, drawing, or sticking a photo? Go ahead! Maybe you prefer to use charts or diagrams to illustrate your thoughts. No need to stick to just words.
8. Keep it private
Sometimes, it can be tempting to show your journal to someone. That’s okay. Just be true to yourself. You shouldn’t keep up appearances in your journal. If there’s a passage in your journal you want to show, it’s best to take a photo or screenshot of it, and don’t give the whole journal.
9. Don’t turn it into a to-do list
Journaling is a reflective activity. Don’t clutter your journal with work, to-do lists (which I’m not a fan of), and other stuff. Keep it personal. This is why I suggest journaling for the first 30 minutes or so after you wake up, so you can keep it to your most intrinsic thoughts.
10. Use a platform that works for you
Some are into physical journals, and some folks swear by going paperless. I do both. I especially enjoy using a notebook and pen because I don’t have to stare at my screen to journal. Plus, pen and paper feels nice.
If you’re totally new to journaling, then experiment. Try different paper-based journals. Try note-taking apps on your laptop or smartphone. Find your best fit.
11. Write whenever you want
Though it’s preferable to write every day, the important thing is to keep it a habit. And commit to that habit.
But you really don’t need to write every day. If you miss a day, just pick it up the next. The goal is to make time for journaling, without beating yourself up over missed habits.
12. You don’t need to write in the morning
I’ve seen those tips that tell you NEED to write each morning, every morning, and this discouraged many from journaling. You really don’t need to journal every day or every morning. If you prefer doing it at night, or during lunch, that’s fine.
13. Switch it up!
One good journaling tip is to get some variety in your practice. Maybe you’re tired of sitting at your desk; go out on the terrace, or visit a cafe to write. Take your journal to work and do a couple of lines during break.
Continue it at night and doodle while watching some Netflix. Being flexible refreshes your senses and inspires your thoughts. I’m not a fan of multitasking for work, but journaling is not work. So it’s fine.
14. Create a sense of accountability
Journaling is a habit, and habits are best maintained when you’re held accountable for it. In my experience, an online community of like-minded people is one of the best places to get encouragement and accountability for your habits.
You can join a writers’ group, an online challenge, or use an app that tracks your progress and time.
15. Remove distractions
Your journaling period is a time of reflection. You can’t do that when chat bubbles or notifications keep popping up to distract you. Put your phone on do-not-disturb mode, or turn off your wifi altogether. Don’t check your email. Just write.
16. Worry on paper
If you’re worried about something, then journal about it. It doesn’t need to be literally on paper. Note-taking apps can also work. Write it down, study your options. Stress and anxiety often come from loose ends. Putting your worries in a journal can help you deal with them better.
17. Decide on paper
Maybe you’re considering a career change, or you’re weighing the pros and cons of your current relationship. When you need to make a big decision, it helps to put them on paper (again, it doesn’t have to be literal paper).
18. Ask: Are you where you want to be?
This doesn’t have to be asked every day. But it can be a good idea to ask yourself this question weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly. Describe your living situation, your work, and your relationships. Are you where you want to be?
19. Use different perspectives
Having different points of view is useful in various facets of life. Annoyed about that customer representative who brushed you off? Think about things from their perspective. You can also be creative with this.
20. Out of ideas? Use journaling prompts
If you can’t think of anything good to write about, rely on a list of questions. I’ve made a list of questions that spark self-reflection. You can use these prompts for inspiration. Again, there are no strict rules for journaling. You can also make up your own prompts.
21. Write one true sentence
One of the best writing tips I’ve learned comes from Ernest Hemingway: “Write one true sentence.” I also apply it to journaling.
The goal is to trick yourself into writing. Once you start, you often keep going. And if you don’t? At least you have one sentence, which is better than zero.
22. Don’t edit yourself when you write
You want to set your thoughts free when you’re journaling. You want to think on paper. But often, we edit ourselves as we’re writing. Avoid that. Don’t correct your grammar. What’s the point? You’re not writing anything formal.
23. Write about your successes
What are some wins in your life? Did you close a deal? Did you overcome back pain? How did you do those things?
Writing about what’s going well in your life, no matter how small, can help you study it for future insights. The activity also makes you feel more encouraged and positive.
24. Pick a philosophy and write about it
Philosophy helps us examine our values and direction in life. Pick one that you identify with most; Existentialism, Stoicism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. If you can’t identify with one, feel free to experiment. It’s also good to be inspired by various philosophies.
25. Are you stuck? Write about gratitude
If you’ve applied all the journaling tips in the world and have totally run out of things to talk about, then take the time to write about what you’re thankful for.
Writing about gratitude can help your thoughts flow again, lift your mood, and even help you on days when you’re doubting yourself. It’s a very helpful practicepractise.
26. Try writing in the third person
Sometimes, there are things you want to bring out that are difficult to write about. Maybe it’s a trauma, or something you’re not proud of.
When this happens, try writing in the third person, as if you’re telling someone else’s story. Most people find that easier. This gives you distance and provides a new perspective. Write down what you learned about yourself.
27. Write about mundane details
Maybe you had a fun conversation with your best friend. Nothing special, right? You often have those conversations. But in a few years, you won’t remember it. Details bring memories alive. Note down the location, time, who you were with, what clothes you wore, how it felt, the verbatim words spoken, etc.
28. Write your unsent letters
There are things we sometimes wish we said, or didn’t say. These moments may haunt us even when there’s nothing we can do about it. This is where unsent letters come in. Write to someone, specific people, maybe even yourself, and say everything you want to say. Unsent letters can be a therapeutic outlet for your most honest thoughts.
29. Always end on a positive note
While it’s a great place to vent, a journal becomes more effective when used as a self-learning tool. Don’t just write about how bad your day was, or how annoyed you’re feeling. Staying in a negative mindset influences your decisions. Always end on a positive note.
Bonus tip: Keep on journaling
We will only see the real benefits of journaling over a longer period. If you plan to write for a few days a year, what’s the use? This practice can only change your life if you keep at it. But that isn’t really a surprise, right? This is true for most things in life.
And here’s another thing: I hardly ever read my old journals. Some people are surprised about this. For me, journaling is about the process. When you write down your thoughts, you learn better. Even if you never use your old journals, you’re still getting something out of the practice itself.
Whether you use the tips from this article or not, I hope you find a way that helps you to keep journaling. It can truly change your life.